This past Sunday I taught Gospel Doctrine Lesson #38 where we learn that Paul apparently yields to the pleadings of his brethren and goes to the temple to participate in the prescribed ceremony for personal cleansing as a show of support for the Law of Moses in order to placate his detractors. I have two questions related to this incident; why do you suppose Paul would subject himself to the obvious dangers of being in the temple, knowing of the potential for violence the Jews were capable of, and why would he participate in a ritual so clearly associated with the Mosaic traditions he was so fervently teaching were no longer correct or acceptable to The Master? Your thoughts,please.
With respect to your first question, Paul was not known for avoiding danger. To the contrary, he frequently placed himself in extremely dangerous circumstances to demonstrate the power of the gospel in his life and to give encouragement to others through the power of his example. To the Philippians he said,
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things [which happened] unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other [places]; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will (Philippians 1:12-15.)
Paul, having been forwarned by the prophet Agabus that if he went to Jerusalem he would be bound by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles, replied
What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 21:13)
Wiht respect to your second question, undoubtedly Paul went to Jerusalem under the inspiration of the Lord against all the council of his brethren. He surely knew better than any of those opposed to his going what awaited him there. There is also no doubt that Paul understood that the Mosaic law was fulfilled in Christ, and that ritualistic observance was no longer a requirement of salvation. That was the very cause of much of his persecution. Paul’s mission was not only to convert the gentiles, but also to convince the Jews. He went where they were congregated, and often he was given an audience (Acts 17:10-12; 16-17.) And although some believed, others fomented persecution agianst him.
It appears that Paul followed the ritual of purification with four of his brethren to demostrate to the Jews that they were clean according to the law, which would have negated the charges that he had polluted the temple (Acts 21:28).